There was finally calm weather for a New York Red Bulls game night, but instead of light shining through there was more disappointment for what has become the cloudiest of seasons in Harrison.
A ball ricocheting to Robert Berić was enough for Chicago Fire to take a 1-0 result over the Red Bulls on Saturday night as New York falls to 12th in the conference and six points out of playoff positioning. Though the Red Bulls outshot Chicago 20 to 9, only one shot made it through to goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth as New York continued to struggle to create incisive chances.
The match began with Gerhard Struber deploying a flatter 4-4-2 with Caden Clark and Wiki Carmona as wide number 10s while John Tolkin and Sean Davis sat at the base of midfield. For the first time this season, Tom Edwards got to start in his preferred right fullback role and caught the eye with his crisp deliveries from the back. The Red Bulls largely controlled proceedings early before Chicago pounced on a quiet spell after the 30th minute.
After a Chicago throw-in ricocheted around the New York box, the apparently offside Chicago striker Robert Berić controlled and shoveled the ball past a helpless Carlos Coronel. Though initially called off, sparking a mild brawl between New York and Chicago players crowding the referee, referee Victor Rivas eventually returned from the VAR monitor to award the goal. Again the Red Bulls were left in the unenviable position of chasing the game against a team in the lead and unwilling to take risks.
The rest of the first half played out with little fanfare as Struber brought his team into the locker room again looking to claw a result together out of a flat game. Though largely the same formation came out after halftime, Wiki Carmona could be found getting on the ball in better spaces to connect the midfield with forwards Fábio and Patryk Klimala. On the first real chance Chicago created all game in the 58th minute, Carlos Coronel played the hero again to make a diving save.
Eventually the disappointing Klimala (who strangely seemed to give up on a gettable long ball late in the first half) was replaced by veteran Daniel Royer as Struber desperately tried to change the game in New York’s favor. There was almost an immediate payoff as an Andrew Gutman cross fell to Royer in front of an empty Chicago net, only for the Austrian to get his feet tangled up and squander the opportunity.
The remainder of the game saw a New York team built to thrive on the other team’s mistakes forced to play halfcourt possession against a bunkering Chicago side. Generally unable to create through the middle, most Red Bulls attacks came through fullbacks Gutman and the substitute Kyle Duncan, with floated crosses creating some scrambles around the aerial target created by Fábio, but in the end the Red Bulls did not find the needed breakthrough and lilted to another disappointing result in what has become a disappointing season.
In what has become a somewhat monotonous refrain this season, Struber again expressed disappointment at his team’s inability to create incisive chances in another frustrating result.
“The feeling is not on the best level for me, my staff, and my boys. We expect all week a win and we train all week in this direction. In the end we are not hungry enough to create enough chances. We’re again missing that killing spirit in the box. I think we’re missing that energy to give Chicago problems.”
“I think maybe sometimes the players they are surprised that they have a chance. Sometimes they seemed stressed and they must know that sometimes they can take another pass to find the right chance, and I think right now we missed that.”
“I think on the goal it is again something you saw when we played there away. It’s a set piece moment where we’re not ready and are maybe caught by surprise.”
With the Red Bulls continuing to tread water in what has become a two-month attempt to turn middling form around, Struber states that there is a “competition” in his squad to find places as the team’s objectives get tougher and tougher.
“Right now it is in our hands to change this season in a better direction. We need killers, we need hungry boys with a motivation to win games.”
“Over the next few weeks we need to find the right boys for a big comeback to make playoffs. Every player must know that if they are not at their personal limit, there will be another player coming in.”
But these words are falling on increasingly deaf ears as generating any success out of 2021 seems incredibly unlikely. Struber has increasingly put his rhetorical vantage point on the future, but he cannot indulge an apparent assumption that he has a season to burn in his New York project. A team coming off a buoyant run to a lower playoff spot is a better team to build upon than a team going backwards, and Struber must sense the urgency required to get in the former spot soon.